Five Perks to Being Bi-vocational
I planted The City Church in 2010, a year after the stock market crashed. We started with 20 people in a living room, and even with the generous support of friends, families, and organizations, there was no way I could pull a full-time salary. When I got the chance to teach part-time public speaking courses at Texas Christian University, I jumped at it—primarily as a means of support but also because I had already spent four years ministering to that campus. Today our church has seen significant growth, is financially "stable," and we have multiple elders and deacons. Some are financially supported; others are not. Three years in, the church could pay me a full-time salary, but I'm still bi-vocational and—don't fall out of your chair—I hope that's always the case.
Generally seen as a last-ditch option, bi-vocationality is a necessity for many in today's economic climate. Especially in new churches or smaller ministries, pastors hesitantly turn to a second source of income for as little time as humanly possible. But I'm here to tell you it's one of the best things I've ever experienced. Here are five ways God can use bi-vocationality to serve his kingdom.
1. Stewarding God's money
Between my two jobs, God provides adequately for my family. One of the organizations for which I work even defines the hours I give them as enough to warrant health benefits. That's not true of every part-time job, but at least some workplaces (most famously, Starbucks) extend benefits without requiring 40 hours.
Consider the benefit to God's church. By working at TCU for the past three years, our church has been able to put money toward things that we couldn't otherwise. We send more to missions, we help hurting couples who can't afford professional counseling, we financially support other folks to use their gifts for the good of the body. Traditionally, a healthy, established church budget should put 50 percent toward staff and 30 percent toward a building, leaving 20 percent (or less in some cases) for ministry and mission. A small ministry is often skewed even further.
First Timothy 5:18 says, "'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages.'" But most of us have only heard—and used—it to justify a pay increase. Have we considered the other side of the coin? For some ministers, 40 hours of work are not needed each week. Is it possible we aren't always worth the wage we want? I found myself creating things to take up 40 or 50 hours of work in the church building. But those hours weren't necessary. I had to ask myself, Are these extra hours worth my people's support? I knew the difference; the hard part was being honest about how I spent God's money.
2. Making disciples
I love the local church, but I know that there are always more people outside the church walls than inside. Before I'm a pastor, I'm a follower of Jesus, and he calls his followers to live out the Great Commission: "Go and make disciples …" (Matthew 28:19). Before I started City Church, I worked for decade in "normal, full-time" church ministry. I was even "successful" by most standards. But over that decade, I became really good at managing Christians and really bad at making disciples.
Through my second job, I'm prayerfully pursuing the Great Commission on the campus that Playboy ranked 2012's number nine party school in the nation. My officemate is a great Jewish man. My department is made up of professors across the spectrum of intellectual humanity. Three times a week, I talk to Azim, president of an Islamic campus organization, and Michael, whose brother is a pastor but who hates God because of what he experienced during military deployment. I open my office to them and 48 other students like them, and I invite them to lunch in groups. And once in a while, I get a note from a student who finds him or herself in crisis that says—as one young man wrote—"I don't have anyone to turn to for advice, but I think you told us you were a priest or something." By God's grace, bi-vocationality opens doors to disciple-making.
3. Building credibility
The stereotype of ministers is that we live in a bubble, surrounded by books, prayer journals, ancient languages, and only interact with other Christians. In some folks' eyes, pastors "couldn't hack it" elsewhere. Sometimes they aren't too far off! By working outside the church walls, I share "normal" work, boss, and employee experiences, and I can connect with those in my church who do the same. My time is divided, and for ministry to happen, I have to pull late nights and have folks over for dinner—just like everyone else in my church. Living in the "real world" and finding points of connection have allowed me to become "all things to all people"—bi-vocationality has built my credibility with those inside and outside our church.
It's well-known that in some seasons, even the Apostle Paul worked a second job (Acts 18), and at least once he went as far as to reject taking support for his ministry (1 Cor. 9). He's certainly a credible example to follow.
4. Equipping the saints
Before The City Church turned one year old, my wife and I welcomed our first baby into the world. As amazing as she (and her younger sister after her) was, she couldn't provide for me. She couldn't feed me. She couldn't clothe me. Nor would anyone expect her to. But often people expect "baby" churches to look full-grown. They expect young ministries to be fully developed. And they expect the leader alone to make it all happen. Paul says my role as a pastor is to "equip the saints for the work of ministry," (Eph. 4:12). I used to get paid to do ministry work, so members had a hard time understanding why clergy didn't do all the ministry.
Bi-vocationality removes expectations and pressures from both our church and my family. That's a good thing: it takes everyone to do the work of ministry. Because I'm like them and busy like they are, I don't have time to do all the ministry. I serve my role and equip others. They serve their role and do ministry, too. In other words, bi-vocationality demands all God's people step up and live out Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12: everyone plays a part, according to their gifts and passions.
5. Tearing down idols
The the greatest benefit to bi-vocationality hit me somewhere I didn't expect: my soul. Most leaders I know are control freaks. I am, too. Bi-vocationality is one of the most sanctifying things I've experienced. By necessarily giving several hours of my week to work outside the institutional church, God reminds me daily that it's his church, not mine; they're his people, not mine. Jesus says, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," (Matt. 16:18. Emphasis mine). I can't do that. As I put aside the common idea that every waking hour is given to "my" ministry, and that nothing can happen without "my" involvement, beautiful things have happened.
I've learned to delegate, to train leaders, to trust others—especially in areas where I'm weak—and to focus on areas in which I'm better suited. I'm learning to walk away from work at the end of the day, to give evenings to my family rather than "catch-up" on work, to sleep better, to trust God more. Control is still an idol for me. I work against it internally, but it's helpful to have this buttress to bolster my battle against this area of sin, pride, and self-sufficiency. Bi-vocationality is practical, humbling, and sanctifying.
A Different Light
I recently attended a bi-vocational session at a pastors' conference. I was excited to hear encouragement for the dozens of downtrodden leaders who felt like second-class citizens. But after the session, folks seemed even more frustrated. The entire time was dominated by an equally-frustrated speaker sharing ways to "get out of that second job as fast as possible." For many, it was an hour of unattainable false hope that merely fed bitterness.
I've learned to see bi-vocationality in a different light. God provides daily bread for me as he wants to, not me. God, who is sovereign over all things, has his hand in the fact that I work two jobs—and he's bearing fruit in both. God, who Scripture says works in all things for the good of those he's called, seems to be working some of that objective "good" through my bi-vocationality, not in spite of it.
I'm not claiming it's wrong to minister full-time. Merely that it's not always right, and that there may be financial, ministerial, missional, and even spiritual benefits to holding two jobs. So maybe God wants to redeem our view of bi-vocationality, just like he wants to redeem all things under the sun.
Ben Connelly is pastor of The City Church in Fort Worth, Texas and teaches public speaking at Texas Christian University.
Copyright © 2013 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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